Caplan's leadership, good humor noted; HCC trustee 12 years

The Baltimore Sun

After two six-year terms, Roger N. Caplan will complete his role as a Howard Community College trustee at the end of this month.

Caplan served on the seven-member board -- including as chairman from July 2001 to June 2004 -- during a time of significant growth in students and infrastructure.

He said his greatest contribution to that growth was being on the committee that hired Mary Ellen Duncan as president in 1998.

Duncan, who stepped down at the beginning of this month, has been widely praised for leading efforts to construct four buildings, enhance the campus atmosphere and offer more programs, technology and learning tools.

"I am thrilled now we have a campus and a quad," Caplan said. "She was an eloquent spokeswoman for our students to have first-class facilities."

Patrick Huddie, the current board chairman, said Caplan played a key role in "an expansion of the sense of possibility that Howard Community College can be a world-class community college. ... It has no limit to what it can achieve."

Huddie said he was struck by Caplan's commitment to the welfare of students and also his "great sense of humor. He's just a joyful personality. When he's serious, he's really serious. But most of the time, he's just good-humored." Caplan, a Columbia resident who owns the Caplan Group advertising and public relations firm, said the board's role was to offer its expertise when needed and keep the issues of affordability and accessibility front and center.

"The most important thing when you're a trustee is to know your role," Caplan said. "You do not micromanage policy; you set objectives and goals with the president. ... You have to trust the leaders of the organization."

Duncan said, "Roger is an exceptional board member in the sense that he has more passion than anyone for the community college. His excitement about helping students is just unparalleled."

She said Caplan also was active in fostering a respectful and productive board environment.

"I think they all commit very early to the idea that it's not about us, it's about the college, and whatever our individual biases are, we're going to do the best thing for the college," Duncan said.

She said Caplan was "a leader in coming up with the protocols for the board. ... They can disagree if they want, but once the [decision is made], in public they would never undercut each other. They never try to upstage each other in any way."

Caplan said he was proud to have been an early supporter of the Silas Craft Collegians program, which provides academic support, career exploration and leadership opportunities to students who have potential but did not excel in high school.

The college had established the Rouse Scholars scholarship and leadership program for high-achieving students, Caplan said, and he suggested, "We are the place where people come to get that gateway to an education."

Caplan also established an annual fundraiser at Hunan Manor restaurant that has brought the college tens of thousands of dollars for student scholarships.

As a former middle school teacher, Caplan said, he also has a soft spot for the educators at the college. He praised the faculty's commitment to putting teaching first, and he said he wished the board could have raised salaries more.

Gov. Martin O'Malley will appoint a new trustee on the recommendation of state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer.

Caplan said that the trustees with whom he served left the college better than it was when he arrived.

"It's got to be a culture," he said. "I hope after I leave, the culture prevails."

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